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Foreign policy adviser battle

From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anuburajan and Mike Memoli
NBC's John Yang, Mark Murray and Andrea Mitchell also contributed

WASHINGTON, Iowa -- In a battle for who can claim a bigger slice of the Clinton foreign policy legacy, Barack Obama said at a town hall Friday afternoon that he had more members of the Clinton Administration supporting him than Senator Hillary Clinton at a town hall in Washington, Iowa.  

It was a charge that the Clinton campaign quickly disputed.

"In fact you could argue that there are a bunch of ex-Clintonites supporting me," Obama said. "There are more foreign policy experts from the Clinton Administration supporting me than Senator Clinton. That should raise some pretty interesting questions."

Obama said that the reason so many former Clinton foreign policy advisors were supporting him was because he exercised better judgment on foreign policy. Citing his positions on talking with one's enemies, his opposition to the Iraq War and the Kyl-Lieberman ammendment and his criticism of Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan as an unwilling ally on the war on terror, he argued that his thinking was out of step with a conventional Washington approach but his positions had been proven right over time.

"Why is the national security advisor, the secretary of the navy for Bill Clinton, the assistant secretary of state for Bill Clinton, why are all these people endorsing me? It's not just because I give a good speech. They apparently believe that my vision of foreign policy is better suited for the 21st century, and is not caught up in the politics of fear that we've been seeing out of George Bush for the last seven years," Obama said.

According to a press release by Obama's campaign, there are 47 former members of the Clinton administration who are advising the Obama campaign at a senior level, including Clinton's former national security advisor, secretary of the navy and an assistant secretary of state.  The rest, campaign staffers say, include a cohort of 200 advisors who served in the Clinton administration in lower level positions and are now part of think tanks or academia and who focus on foreign policy on a day to day basis in their careers.  

Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign responded quickly to what they say is a "false charge," releasing a list of 83 foreign policy advisors who had served with the Clinton's. However, as some NBC correspondents and political editors have pointed out the Clinton list appears to be padded with the names of those who either served as assistants, with lobbyists, fundraisers or those who had little connection to foreign policy.

For example, Lissa Muscatine is a speechwriter for Clinton, whose foreign policy experience is limited to covering the French Open and Wimbledon when she was a tennis writer for the Washington Post's sports section.  

Others, such as Walter Mondale who was ambassador to Japan during the Clinton years, certainly played a role in American politics but may not necessarily be considered a "foreign policy" expert.  By players in American politics, it means they may not have had an extensive day to day role in American foreign policy, and may not be credited with having in-depth knowledge of a certain field or subject matter.  

Some of the names include politicos, including Joseph Paolino, a  Clinton bundler and the former mayor of Providence, RI., according to OpenSecrets.org.  Another was Steve Richetti who was deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House.

Many of the experts listed served as ambassadors during the Clinton administration and are either working as lobbyists now and/or are fundraisers for the campaign such as Edward Gabriel, a former ambassador to Morocco.

Five of the experts listed are currently Clinton bundlers who served as ambassadors during the Clinton administration, according to OpenSecrets.org.  They include: Elizabeth Bagley who was the ambassador to Portugal; Robin Chandler Duke an ambassador to Norway; Arthur L. Schechter an ambassador to the Bahamas; Timothy L. Chorba who was an ambassador to Singapore; Charles T. Mannatt who was the ambassador to the Dominican Republic; and Thomas L. Siebert who was an ambassador to Sweden

Though some on the list are currently lobbyists, they did serve as foreign policy staffers during the Clinton Administration.  They include:  William Danvers who served as a staffer for four years on the national security council; Stuart E. Eizenstat who spent three years as the ambassador to the European Union; Rudy Deleon who was a deputy secretary of defense.

In the argument over advisors, both campaigns are attempting to claim the legacy of the only Democratic administration in the last twenty-seven years.  Obama in particular has paraded his advisers holding foreign policy forums with former Clinton administration officials such as Tony Lake (former secretary of the navy) and Susan Rice (former assistant secretary of state for African affairs) to offset the claim tht he does not have enough foreign policy experience.

The forums are often saccharine affairs, with experts praising Obama's vision for foreign poliicy and through the power of their own resumes try to assert that if they are backing him, then he does have the experience and foresight to chart a better course in foreign policy than the other candidates in the race.

Returning to the argument that he doesn't have enough experience to be president, Obama also said at the town hall that he would enter the White House with more foreign policy experience than either Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan.  

"Well, first of all I sit on the Senate foreign relations committee even by the standards of Washington I have dealt more with foreign policy than let's say Bill Clinton had when he became president or Ronald Reagan who was a governor at the time," he said.